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World of Warcraft: Why Don’t We Like Professions?

In the background, I have World of Warcraft running as I level my death knight’s professions. I’m following a guide so she can hit 525 blacksmithing as soon as possible. After that, I’ll be grinding out her leatherworking skill, following a guide to minimize my material investment and maximize my skill point gains.

Dammit, I have to buy ten stacks of iron bars, and they cost 20 gold each on the auction house. I might have to start doing mining runs on my main if I want to cut costs.

Right now in World of Warcraft, we’re at the end of an expansion, literally hours away from the launch of Mists of Pandaria. I don’t know why I’m bothering to level my professions now when I know the cap will just increase by another 75 points (to 600) in less than a week. I’m just going to have to grind them out when I reach 90 anyway, right? This brings me to the actual question: why do we not like professions? (While this talks largely about WoW, these same ideas can apply to other games with crafting professions.)

My history of professions

When The Burning Crusade came out, I made a Blood Elf paladin who did mining and jewelcrafting; very original, I know. I leveled his professions while I leveled him. I was making whatever I wanted: I made some cloth head pieces for the casters in my guild; I made some rings as a sort of guild signet; I made low-level amulets to sell on the auction house. I didn’t really care how I was spending my materials nor did I mind going out to collect them. It was aimless and carefree, so I was having fun. Once my paladin started leveling faster, I found less time to work on his professions. When he hit 80 and landed a decent set of raid-capable gear, I ended up having to grind out his jewelcrafting skill for the profession’s bonus, which is a gem cut exclusive to jewelcrafters.

My main, a priest, does mining and skinning. These are the best professions any of my characters have, as they are gathering professions. These are easy to level as you play your character and you can sell everything you gather on the auction house.1 There were times when I would be gathering and not get skill points because I had reached the cap for my current skill tier. As a bonus, you can store everything that you collect for later use with an alt’s crafting profession. However, you will quickly run out of storage space, and this is always a problem with finite inventories.2 Luckily, profession bags—herbalism pouches, mining sacks, or leatherworking packs—exist and can make gathering storage much easier. I prefer my tried-and-true method, though: just mail everything off to an alt and keep them in mailbox limbo until they are needed.

My first alt, which is my rogue, does mining and engineering. For a little while, her mining and engineering leveled with her. I eventually stopped paying attention to these professions, so at level 80, I had to grind out 350 skill points for both professions. Engineering is pretty damn expensive to level if you’re using the auction house, so I had to do mining runs to collect all of the ore, bars, and other materials needed to level engineering. I looked up mining guides to find the best routes in each zone for any given ore type. I used a power leveling guide for my engineering, as well. I did not enjoy leveling engineering, as there a lot of specialized equipment had to be crafted just to make more complex items. There was very little return on investment for those items because they tended to be exclusive to engineers and had low vendor prices. Engineering is, by and large, a profession that makes toys that can be used only by engineers. I hate it (except when I get to play with all the toys I make.)

As for cooking, I remember putting it off on my priest for a long time, then having to run through low-level zones to gather whatever meat I couldn’t find on the auction house. I vividly remember having to travel to Cenarion Hold in Silithus to find a specific recipe that was very efficient. I hated leveling cooking, so I avoided doing so on my rogue until Pilgrim’s Bounty—WoW’s version of Thanksgiving.

Lastly, I have four alts without any professions. No primaries, no secondaries. They could be herbalists, alchemists, or scribes, but I don’t see the point. I’m content with buying flasks and potions off of the auction house. I also know that if I do pick up any professions, I’m likely to just turn to guides to min/max the leveling yet again.

Making professions enjoyable

As you can guess, I’ve leveled my professions in every way possible. I’ve leveled them as I leveled my character. I’ve leveled them quickly and efficiently. I’ve leveled them inefficiently. Naturally, I have some thoughts as to why leveling professions isn’t fun, and how it could be.

For gathering professions, making profession bags more accessible would allow players to spend less time managing their inventory and more time questing and gathering out in the world. However, the only profession bag that is easily accessible to low-level characters is a 12-slot herbalism pouch that only costs 60 silver. Meanwhile, miners have to pay 10 gold for a 20-slot sack and skinners need to have a high-level leatherworker craft a 20-slot pack for them. Aside from herbalism, profession bags are nigh inaccessible to low level characters. Thankfully, the only characters being leveled these days are alts whose mains have deep pockets thus making bag acquisition a non-issue, otherwise new players would be totally screwed here.

Engineers will be getting a new set of toys come Mists of Pandaria, but what about non-engineers? Currently, the only toy an engineer can craft for the common player is a Steam Tonk. However, Tonk battles immediately break down to circling your enemy and trying to hit them. In other words, Tonks are boring to produce and boring to play with. Why not expand upon that? MiniZeps were available in 2010 during the Feast of Winter Veil3 and these can interact with Steam Tonks (with all the same problems of playing). We might see more engineers if engineers became the sole supplier for a StarCraft-esque mini-game, which would also solve the two problems surrounding the Tonks toy line. More units to fill the holes of anti-air and anti-ground is obvious—imagine having Horde and Alliance themed mini-gunships acting as flying bombers—what Tonks really need is deployable cover, i.e., line-of-sight blockers that only affect Tonks. There’s potential here for guilds (or servers!) to have organized “SteamCraft”4 tournaments.

This brings me to the blacksmithing and leatherworking on my death knight. This is the first character I have that does not have a gathering profession to complement the crafting profession. Part of this is due to the fact that I have three miners and a skinner already, so there should be no shortage of gathering ability there. However, the real reason for this choice is that blacksmithing provides a bonus of 640 mastery and leatherworking provides 750 stamina—these are huge gains for a raiding tank! This means that, if I want to reach max skill level for each profession, I’ll have to do a lot of crafting, hours of crafting. Crafting is not fun, but–

Hold on, I need to run to Stonard. Apparently the recipe for the next material-efficient item I need to craft comes from a vendor there.

Blizzard did a really cool thing to make cooking enjoyable: during the Pilgrim’s Bounty holiday, there are daily quests which require you to create large quantities of food with relatively cheap materials. It’s the best way to level cooking from 1-450, and it is fun. It’s fun having to run between the capital cities to collect the regional ingredients, to go out and hunt turkeys. I leveled cooking on my rogue and paladin this way, before returning to Northrend and farming meat and leveling the secondary profession in a more traditional manner.

Another nice thing is the Darkmoon Faire, which comes around the first week of each month. There, we can do profession-specific quests which increase our skill in that profession by five points. This is an extension of sorts on the cooking and fishing dailies already available that provide one skill point each. These quests are fun to do because they don’t involve stocking up on materials and earning points while your character’s cast bar fills up. You get to participate instead of waiting for your order sheet to fill out.

Ludoprofessional musings

The Darkmoon Faire gives us a template: to make crafting professions more enjoyable overall, there needs to be more things to do than stockpiling resources and working through a checklist of created items until a given breakpoint. A few hypothetical dailies for each profession:

  • Blacksmiths could create new weapons or armor for the troops, outfitting horses with shoes (a copy of the Darkmoon Faire quest), or forging small knickknacks for NPCs like a new set of dinnerware.
  • Leatherworkers could be tasked with creating toys, saddles, or uniforms for the city’s sportsball team (number one in points!)
  • Tailors could do some real-world tailoring such as designing costumes, or altering existing items to fit someone’s unique shape, or even repairing non-descript cloth armor—an in-game reason for how cloth armor can be repaired at a blacksmith.
  • Alchemists could be tasked with grabbing supplies off the shelf, like Alchemist Finklestein’s daily in Zul’Drak, or producing various medicines for the medics. Lastly, with poison vendors out of a job (thanks, replenishable toxin pouches!), Azeroths less upstanding citizens have to get their poisons and serums from somewhere.
  • As for enchanters, they could just get skill points for being forced to share their profession with other players during loot rolls. (I mean this in jest (but not really.))

I’m not making note of fishing because fishing hasn’t ever been fun, not even in classic. The developers are aware that fishing is not fun and have considered many ways to make it better. Rumor has it, players will be able to buy skill books for their alts that let them skip 50 skill points, up to 450; I haven’t been able to confirm this rumor, but it would be a welcome change. Here’s a bit of trivia, though: fishing used to be a very profitable profession thanks to a ridiculously high vendor price. In patch 1.2.0, Blizzard cut the vendor price on fish by a significant amount. Part of this was because people employed fishing bots to catch fish, which gave them a huge advantage over players who had better things to do than contemplate suicide while catching fish all day.

Personally, I would love to see some choice come into play with new profession dailies. As a blacksmith, my death knight could be asked to make new shoes for horses, craft new armor for the horses, or outfit the riders with new spurs. However, I could choose only one of these dailies instead of all three. The next day, the set of dailies might be crafting swords for the troops, sharpening dulled blades, or forging a special-order sword on behalf of King Wrynn for one of his new lieutenants. This lets players choose what they want to do. Maybe they like making horse shoes because it’s the easiest quest. Maybe they like being able to say they were contracted by Varian Wrynn himself to make a sword for RP reasons. Maybe they like fashioning battleplate together because that one involves a neat Simon mini-game.

Hey, is the Royal Apothecary Society hiring? The RAS could be Undercity’s flavor to alchemy dailies, which in turn means that if someone wants to role-play being an apothecary for the RAS, then they could actually do that. (Obviously, if I chose to be an Apothecary in Undercity, I couldn’t also do an alchemy daily in Orgrimmar or Thunder Bluff.)

So I’ve been sitting in Stonard for the last three hours waiting for Gharash to restock on the plans for Mithril Scale Bracers with no luck. I’m done with this guy. Now I’ll go back to Org and craft way more of a lower level item than I need to, burning through my carefully-calculated (and farmed) stockpile of materials, and curse as I go through several stacks of mithril bars and mageweave cloth in the pursuit of one skill point. You know what would make 225-235 blacksmithing less of a brick wall? Daily quests. It would have taken me ten days to get those points, but that’s okay since I really have no reason to hurry to reach 525 with Mists on the horizon.

Lastly, if crafting professions awarded experience, it would give players a reason to level these professions while they level their character. It wouldn’t be a lot of experience, of course—nobody wants to see someone hit max level after two days of crafting. I think having one skill point (yellow) being equivalent to killing one mob (at level) is reasonable. This provides pacifist characters with an additional alternative path to leveling other than exploration, gathering, or leeching experience from party members, all without being the most efficient leveling path on its own.

Nothing spells fun like a 10-minute timeout. I’ll go sit in the corner…

The professions question

What if professions didn’t have a bonus? My death knight has blacksmithing and leatherworking specifically for the profession-only bonuses. My priest has mining and skinning as things to do, but otherwise the extra stamina and crit rating do not help a healer.

I know some players who wouldn’t level professions at all if bonuses weren’t given. They would be more content to simply buy everything they needed (flasks, food, etc) off of the auction house than make it themselves. The player-driven market would expand rapidly if this were the case. The rich and lazy could buy from the poor and determined, and gold would circulate throughout the economy.

Furthermore, if there were no bonuses, there would be no stigma against not having max-level professions. You could just cook some soup for your buddies because you want your buddies to have soup, not because you gain 50% more stats because you can make the soup. It would eliminate the stress of having to level your professions as quickly as possible so that you can catch up. You’d level professions because you want to, not because you feel like you have to.

Bonuses don’t really matter to role-players. So what if you get extra health because you have blacksmithing? You can’t really reconcile that with your character for role-playing. Having dailies available to assist with the leveling process does. Again, an alchemist could sit around Undercity all day and role-play their character being in the Royal Apothecary Society; an increased buff duration can’t play into that at all. Enchanters aren’t going to reconcile enchanted rings with their character (unless they’re playing a goblin rockin’ dat bling bling), but enchanting dailies can ground them in Azeroth better.

  1. Herbalism is similarly easy.
  2. I am trying really hard not to rip on Super MNC’s Recyclo right now, the useless piece of trash.
  3. Christmas in Azeroth.
  4. That one is free, Blizzard. You’re welcome.

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